Philreca supports Beneco GM; PCOO exec still wants position

>> Sunday, August 9, 2020

BAGUIO CITY – More government officials threw their support to  Melchor Licoben, newly appointed general manager of Benguet Electric Cooperative after Marie Banaag, Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) reportedly wrote President Duterte to endorse or appoint her as Beneco manager.
The Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (Philreca), a congressional partylist and umbrella organization of the country’s electric cooperatives, passed a resolution on July 17 strongly supporting the appointment of Licoben as full time general manager of Beneco. 
Esteban A. Somngi, Beneco president said the Beneco board of directors were in full support of Licoben whom they appointed May 21 as GM.
The National Electrification Administration has yet to affirm Licoben’s appointment but despite this, his appointment by the Beneco board of directors is legal and binding, said Somngi, a lawyer.
He said the board made another resolution urging the NEA, as government power regulating agency, to affirm Licoben’s appointment as GM.
There is no timeline for the NEA affirmation, he said, but Licoben can hold office as OIC general manager pending this.     
Of concern was the appointment of a new general manager of the Abra Electric Company reportedly by President Duterte.
The new Abreco GM recently went to the Abreco office in Bangued informing them he was the new GM on authority of Duterte shocking employees.
Somngi however said Abreco was “ailing” (in terms of finances and management) so its case was different.
“In the case of Beneco, its finances and management are working well and we even have one the lowest electricity rates in the country,” he said.    
All municipal governments of Benguet and Baguio City, through resolutions, aired their support to Licoben, Somngi told a press conference here Thursday at the Beneco office in South Drive. 
The intention of Banaag to sit as Beneco general manager has raised alarm among member-consumers and employees of Beneco who said Licoben was more than qualified to hold the post basing from NEA regulations.
Memorandum No. 2017-035 of the NEA stipulates an applicant as general manager of an electric company must have held the post as OIC (officer in charge) for at least six months and must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from accredited schools like universities as electrical, mechanical, electronics or communications.
Licoben, who sat as Beneco OIC general manager for more than six months,  is an electrical engineer while Banaag is a lawyer.
Somngi said Licoben should manage Beneco as GM since he has the qualification, expertise and experience. 
Earlier, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC), the largest media organization in the Cordillera, also passed a resolution throwing its support to the 52 year old GM who served Beneco close to 30 years already.
                Meanwhile, Liza Agoot, Baguio bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency said Banaag “was not commenting on her application as Beneco general manager and “will just let the process take its course.”
Banaag reportedly said “It’s (her application as GM) out of my hands.”
The PNA is under the PCOO. Banaag was former mayor of Natonin, Mountain Province 
With Licoben’s leadership, Beneco is now expecting a surge in power demand as Baguio City and Benguet under “new normal.”
He told the press conference SM, the giant mall here had a normal monthly electricity rate of P12 million but this went down to P2 million per month since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
“We expect power consumption to rise,” Licoben said. 
Beneco is ready to hurdle all regulatory and industry demands for distribution utilities in the next few years, Licoben said.          
He added Beneco was accepting the challenge hurled by the NEA for all the country’s 121 electric cooperatives (ECs) to piggyback on the national government’s thrust to let local economies absorb the influx of idled employees from the metropolis. 
Edgardo Masongsong, NEA administrator, keynoted the on line NEA-EC Strategic Thinking Conference from July 21-23 and said the role of ECs have become more prominent today when the attention of national growth shifts to rural development.
“The mandate for ECs now must range from sitio energization to rural development and consumer empowerment,” he said.
Licoben, during Thursday’s press conference, said Beneco is studying to set up a cooperative radio station and an electric cooperative bank.
He added the electric company plans to do other money generating projects.
Masongsong earlier encouraged ECs to seriously consider two options saying it is high time ECs must diversify their business to survive and gain the loyalty of their consumers.
Licoben earlier said he will bring the proposals to the board for consideration. “We are about to finish our mini hydro project in Buguias and we are ready to explore other alternatives,” he said, adding Beneco was also bullish on internet or online business. 
“We have tweaked our strategies to adapt to change of times. We have finished our business continuity plan to respond to the adverse impact of the pandemic and certainly, the NEA recommendations are well within our radar,” he said.
Licoben added Beneco is completing regulatory requirements for its proposed one megawatt solar facility in Tabaan Sur, Tuba, the first among Beneco’s solar projects.
Licoben said plans were being set to ensure steady supply of electricity with less unscheduled power interruption to address growing demand for power owing to the government’s Balik Beneco power rates for July were supposedly much lower compared to those of giant Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco).
Based on comparative data on the power rates of the electric cooperative and the power distribution utility, Beneco’s residential power rate for July was pegged at P7.99 per kilowatthour (kWh) compared to Meralco’s announced rate of P8.966 per kWh.
In June, Beneco’s residential power rate was P7.76 per kWh compared to the P8.72 per kWh of Meralco, the biggest power distribution utility in the country.
               Local power industry sources said despite presence of numerous non-viable areas within the cooperative’s franchise area being provided with cheap and quality power through the facilities of the electric cooperative, Beneco was still able to offer cheap power rates to its 170,000 member-consumer-owners.
For over a decade now, it was able to maintain its status as one of the Class AAA electric cooperatives that continues to have one of the cheapest power rates among the 121 rural electric cooperatives and a number of power distribution utilities operating in different parts of the country.
Its aggressive implementation of the government’s rural electrification program has resulted in the 100 percent energization of Baguio City’s 128 barangay (villages) and 140 barangays in Benguet. – Alfred Dizon and Delmar Carino


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